By Colin Chappell, Guest Blogger
When Ray came to live with us, he brought with him many issues. We had been advised that he had no social skills. We had ascertained that he had no training relevant to living in a home, and we knew that he was very cautious around people and other dogs. It was not long before he displayed “Startle Response” (never touch a sleeping Ray!), and “Fear Aggression”. The “Fear Aggression” was Ray’s way of handling uncomfortable situations such as being close to other people and dogs. Ray was a fast learner at home with us and, while he made some mistakes, he was trying to adapt to his new life. He did seem to want to please us, just as we wanted him to be happy. The first thing we had to do however was to arrange for him to have a full medical. When the vet called us to discuss the results, we knew we had a problem.
His dog’s diagnosis? Read about a heartbreaking medical condition.
Medical professionals assess Heartworm status as Stage One to Stage Four. Stage Four, the most advanced, is considered terminal. They estimated Ray at Stage Two, which provided hope that treatment could be successful. Treating heartworm is very expensive and offers no guarantee that the dog will survive the treatment, and so we now had to make the difficult decision of how to proceed with a dog that had lived with us for only a short time. There were some theoretical options for consideration.
1. Commit a lot of money to a treatment program, which may kill Ray? – We were fortunate in that we could manage the estimated $3500.00 financial burden of the treatment program, but did we want to? Ray had not been with us very long and was carrying a lot of emotional “baggage” from his past. While it would be nice to believe that he would adapt to be a lovely family pet, nobody could offer us that guarantee so that we would be investing a considerable amount of money in a dog with unknown potential. Furthermore, treatment consisted of a series of deep muscle injections with an arsenic-based compound, which should kill all the heartworms, however, when heartworms die, the pieces of worm can cause restrictions or even a blockage.
There was a significant possibility that Ray could die from congestive heart failure. To reduce the risk of this potential outcome; a dog must be kept as calm as possible to maintain a very low heart rate. Life for Ray, and for us, would be complicated for the next six months or so.
2. Do nothing? – An option but, in reality, a cruel and irresponsible decision. His quality of life would have slowly deteriorated as the heartworms spread, causing damage to his lungs and other organs throughout his body. Death would have been his only escape.
3. Return Ray to the shelter? – We knew they would have taken him back, but that raised some issues. We would be avoiding making the difficult decision by transferring the responsibility to the shelter. This rationale is against my core belief of accepting one’s responsibilities. Returning him also had some very questionable ramifications in that they would probably not be able to adopt him out again.
Who would want to take on an unknown dog with a serious (and expensive) health issue? Would the shelter be prepared to finance the treatment of a single dog when they are dependent on voluntary financial contributions and are constantly fund-raising to maintain their day-to-day services?
Given our excellent relationship with the shelter, we presented them with our dilemma and asked what they would do if Ray were returned. The answer was, not too surprisingly, very diplomatic. They would not be able to make any decision until he had been reassessed as a possible candidate for future adoption. They also made it clear that whatever decision we made, they would support it wholeheartedly. While their support was appreciated, my feelings were that his future would probably not be too long if returned.
4. Euthanize Ray? – The thought of euthanizing Ray gave me a lot of problems because of Skeeta, my first cat in Canada. Skeeta always seemed to love the company of pretty much anybody and her original owners did not feel that they had the time for her any longer, and so were looking for an alternative home for her. She made a tremendous impact on us all but, after only three months she was distressed. The diagnosis came that she had feline leukemia. Her condition considered untreatable, so the medical staff recommended euthanasia. Looking back, I still struggle with Skeeta’s death. (Terms like “euthanize”, “put down”, and “put to sleep” are all gentle words that only mask the reality of killing.)
The issue with Skeeta was not that her life could not be saved, but that it was far too easy to euthanize her. To have an animal killed, regardless of the justification, should take far more than signing a piece of paper and handing over a relatively small amount of money. Such a simple process was somehow offensive to me in that it resulted in the death of a living creature that had displayed an unquestionable ability to connect with us on an emotional level.
The more I thought about Skeeta, the more I decided that Ray deserved an opportunity to live and it would be my goal to ensure that he had that opportunity. My decision, therefore, was to keep Ray with us and start treatment as soon as possible. Fortunately, Carol had come to the same conclusion, and so treatment was scheduled for the summer.
It did cross my mind that Carol may not be able to justify the cost of the treatment so while I was not anticipating an issue over this, I had made plans to cover the cost on myself. Less than three years old, Ray had not enjoyed a good start to his life. Now Ray worked hard to adapt to our family environment. This big dog had already made a niche for himself in our family. Ray showed signs of wanting to stay with us.
Most importantly to me, Ray was a dog who had invited me to be his friend**.
Friends for life, rare and welcome as love and kinship
What sort of friend would I be to walk away from him, and leave him to whatever fate would await? Ray could well die during the heartworm treatment, but then he could also survive it. I committed to whatever became necessary to ensure that he had the best chance possible of a long and happy life. I suddenly realized just how important he was to me. I loved this guy!
** The details of this life-changing moment (for both of us) are in his book.
About Colin Chappell: Born in England, part of the post-war “baby boomers” Chappell moved to Canada in 1975 with a wife and two children. Through no planning, he happened to fall into a position that included a mandatory deduction for a pension plan. Less than 30 years later, he retired and pursued new interests. When his children had grown he chose a fresh start. Chappell explored music and, due to lack of finances, he bought a “fixer upper” for his new home.
All photos by Colin Chappell
A few years later, Chappell found himself in a new relationship. The question of owning a dog often came into their conversations. It resulted in him being adopted by Ray, and their lives have never been the same since.
Experiences and day-to-day incidents with Ray prompted starting a blog using Word Press, Please visit meandray.com Writing this blog he got the idea of writing a book about Ray. Find this book on Amazon at Who Said I Was Up for Adoption?
Chappell’s writings continued and, after experimenting with some poetry, decided to put together a book of simple, but hopefully thought-provoking, verse.
Just Thinking by Colin Chappell